I’d go there again!
A Desperate Fortune follows two women: modern-day Sara Thomas, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and Mary Dundas, a second generation Jacobite exile. Sara’s story and Mary’s story, which both begin in the same town in France, are intertwined as Sara reads and translates Mary’s diary.
A natural programmer and cryptanalyst, Sara leaves her job because they want her to work with a team, which is something she refuses to do (because of a past betrayal). Her cousin, a slightly older woman, who has been her champion and best friend all her life, sets her up with a temporary position decrypting Mary’s diary. As she settles into the little town and to work decrypting the diary, Sara meets the local residents, including a young divorced father, Luc, his son, Noah, and Noah’s mother, the cook where Sara is staying. Both Luc and Noah help Sara with her research. As the days and weeks pass, she begins to care about the family, but especially Luc. Hiding her Asperger’s is a challenge, but Luc and Noah help her realize that the people who deserve her love are the ones who love her for herself.
Mary has been left at her aunt and uncle’s house while her Jacobite father follows King James into exile in the early 1700s. At the age of twenty-one, her brother invites her to come live with him and his family – after she helps the Jacobite cause, she discovers. She meets a young woman, Mrs. Jamieson, who teaches her how to write a cipher and encourages her to reach for adventure. Abandoned too many times, inspired by Mrs. Jamieson, and restless with the small town life she has led, she agrees to go to Paris to help hide a man running from the English authorities. When things go awry in Paris, she accompanies the fugitive, Mr. Thompson, his bodyguard, the Scotsman Mr. MacPherson, and her maid, Madame Roy, across France to Rome and the court of exiled King James. As they travel, Mary tells fantastical stories and uses her aptitude for masking herself behind other people’s characteristics to help disguise the identities of her traveling companions and herself. She, like Sara, begins to learn that there are people who truly care for her as she is.
The courage with which women both live their lives and confront their fears is inspiring. Both romances are sweet, and I loved watching them gradually unfold. In Sara’s story, I also found the exploration of life with Asperger’s enlightening, and the caring and compassion of the characters who surround her was touching. I found Mary’s travels and journey toward self-acceptance compelling. Both characters are realistic, nuanced, and dynamic, and I enjoyed following along with both of them as they had adventures and became comfortable with and confident in who they are.
As always, Kearsley combines a lush background with complex characters and captivating love stories to create a comforting and exciting story about two women connected across time. The story is clearly based in thorough historical research, which brings the past to life. Highly recommended for Kearsley fans, as well as fans of Sara Donati and Diana Gabaldon. Fans of historical and contemporary fiction will no doubt also enjoy A Desperate Fortune.
If you get hooked on Susanna Kearsley after reading this, you’ll also want to try The Winter Sea and The Firebird, two in a series about the Jacobites.
Want more dual time stories? Try Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series.
If you enjoy historical romance but aren’t interested in dual timelines, and are looking for a novel with a realistic setting and daring female protagonists, Joanna Bourne’s Spymasters series may be for you. The first in the series is also one of my favorites.